Amy Seimetz almost didn’t get her role on AMC’s “The Killing.” Network executives initially dismissed the indie actress (“Upstream Color”) and filmmaker (“Sun Don’t Shine”) as too “cute and sweet” for the part of hot mess single mom Danette, whose teenage daughter goes missing in tonight’s Season 3 premiere.
“I’m from Florida, and I’m pretty scrappy,” Seimetz explains. “The idea of — at 31 — being called too cute and sweet made me really angry.” So she fought back and ultimately won the gig with the help of a self-made audition video that didn’t even feature sound (“That’s when I realized that my iPad microphone was broken,” she laughs).
Maybe that sweetness was a lingering trace of her role as a love interest on HBO’s Christopher Guest comedy “Family Tree,” which she wrapped right before landing “The Killing” and coincidentally also airs on Sunday nights. Seimetz’s “Tree” arc starts June 23, and she says anyone who tunes in to both that and “The Killing” will be in for a surprise: “The leap from those two people that I’m playing will be really funny in the same night.”
We sat down with Seimetz in Los Angeles last month to discuss “The Killing,” “Family Tree” and whether or not she’d ever want to make a TV show of her own.
Danette only has a couple of scenes in the season premiere, was that all you had to audition with?
I had one scene with my daughter and [another scene from] later when she’s kind of a mess and going a little nuts. That’s all I saw, but I knew her enough in the way she interacted with her daughter. It could’ve been easily played super duper heartless … I don’t like using the word trash but that [type of] over-the-top caricature. I know women like her. They’re stunted. What people wouldn’t realize is she’s super sensitive and therefore really defensive, like a teenager. Anything anyone says to her, she always feels like they’re judging her. Whatever somebody does is to spite her. She allows that to be the knee-jerk response to everything, including her daughter.
She’s not going to win mother of the year.
That’s another reason I think [“The Killing”] is really great and the women on the show are so interesting. [There’s an expectation] when you are a mom you have to be good at it. You can either choose to have a career or be a mom. Or you have to choose everything and be the best at everything. We’re more accepting cinematically — or just in life — of men who spend too much time working and not enough time with their kid. Women don’t get to have these sorts of existential crises, where they’re like ‘Maybe I don’t want any of this.’ Both Danette and Sarah Linden [played by Mireille Enos] are interesting women who are struggling with being a mom. You don’t really see people [exploring] that with female characters.
It does feel like there’s a lot of celebrating the male anti-hero on TV, while female characters are judged more harshly.
I ain’t gonna lie. There’s gonna be a lot of moms wondering if they’re a good mom who watch Danette and go, ‘Oh, I’m doing alright.’ She’s trying her best but… Some of the stuff that flies out of her mouth. You get the scripts and sometimes your initial reaction is, ‘How the hell am I gonna say that? It’s just insane.’ You find a way, and those become your favorite lines. There have been several lines where I was like, ‘Wow, that’s gonna take some tap dancing.’ But you realize if you trust the writing and it comes out of your mouth naturally, it’s more insane. It’s how [Danette] is responding to situations. It’s pretty fun.
How much do you know about Danette’s arc for the season?
We’re only on episode nine [of 12] right now. I know where we’re at right now, but no one knows the complete ending. You get revealed pieces in the story as you go, which is really fun. Veena [Sud, the showrunner of “The Killing,”] is really good about [making sure] the choices that you’re making in the episodes won’t screw you over in the end. They’re very good in informing you how to react to stuff. I know where she’s at right know but we’ll see…
You have a different challenge on “Family Tree” because everything is improvised. Was that an exciting way to work?
It’s Christopher Guest, so it’s cool — to put it eloquently. You’re with really amazing improvisers and storytellers. The weight’s off your shoulders a little bit when you put a bunch of people together who are good at it. He already puts you in a silly situation so you don’t have to make it over the top silly. It’s more about grounding it and making it realistic.
Did you ever get nervous about keeping up?
I was certain I was going to get fired at some point. One day when Nina [Conti] and Tom [Bennett] and I were waiting to shoot something, I couldn’t hold it in anymore and said ‘I’m convinced every day that this is it. I look over at video village and they’re all discussing something and maybe this is self-centered of me but I’m certain that they’re discussing me and how bad that take was and how nothing that comes out of my mouth is intelligent and whatever faces I’m making are completely stupid and everything is just awful and they should fire me immediately!’ And then Nina and Tom were both like, ‘I feel the same exact way!’
You showed Veena Sud the movie you directed, “Sun Don’t Shine,” after you were cast in “The Killing.” How did she react?
She knew that I was a director and she really wanted to see it. My movie is slow burn crime, it’s more interested in the characters than the sensationalism of murder. There’s a draw for me to those dark elements, but mostly I’m interested in watching people react under those. It was clear once she watched it that we both were on the same page. We like the same sorts of movies and aesthetics and we have a good shorthand of knowing how to talk about characters and develop a character in a slow burn sense. To me what’s interesting about ‘The Killing’ is straddling realism and pulpiness.
“The Killing” was criticized in its first two seasons for some of that slow burn style. Some people took issue with the pacing and wanted the mystery resolved faster. What’s your take on that argument?
Other crime shows — I don’t want to diss them, because some of them are really fun to watch — but they kind of ignore [the impact of] dealing with the subject matter day in and day out. In the new season, [the show starts to explore] the prison system and how it affects these human beings in their lives and how hard it is to be near something so dark and hold it together. I don’t think there’s any other crime show that allows people to have an insight into how watching what human beings can do a
t their worst can just completely tear apart your perception of how to be a happy human being. Whether you’re a victim of the crime or the person trying to solve the crime or the person committing the crime, there’s a 360 degree psychological breakdown of everyone on the show.
You’re a filmmaker and now that you’ve had experience acting in TV it seems like the next step might be to create your own show?
My mom once said, ‘Never say never,’ when I was younger and I was so dogmatically experimental and non-conformist. She was like, ‘Maybe keep your options open?’ This year is really surreal and weird, my 21-year-old self looking at myself at 31 is probably really baffled as to how I got on television twice in one year.
You never even imagined being on a TV show?
I really did not think I was going to do that at all. When I was 21, I had no interest. I liked when people didn’t understand my work. That was appealing to me. I liked stuff that challenged form. Television has really changed so much. [Now] I’m interested in taking the serial format and seeing how we can push it into the independent sphere. At the same time, I think I’m more interested in observing it in the role I have now and then trying to figure out how to make it another way.